01 February 2017 - Rosemary French
Our Borough Council has submitted a second Local Plan to public consultation after the first was sent back for serious reconsideration by the Inspector a couple of years ago, querying the low number of new homes. The new Local Plan has looked once again at the numbers and the result is eminently reasonable considering that it has the same problem as many councils in the South East - a huge number of new homes it needs to locate to meet forecast demand. For example, the Borough has huge swathes of green belt and dares not encroach on that; the area is full of scattered villages and small market towns without any significant urban centre; and much of the area has no public transport links and seriously inadequate road, rail and bus infrastructure, never mind schools, health centres, care homes and the rest! So what do you do? Spread little pockets of housing all over the place or build a new settlement? Our Borough has done a bit of both but has relied heavily on a new mixed use development on a very large brownfield site to achieve its numbers. It is an easy and obvious first choice, one would think.
Now, the Local Plan is approved by the councillors before it comes out to public consultation. And many of those councillors also represent their own Parish Councils and Town Councils. You would think that this means they support the Local Plan. But incredibly these very same people’s views in the Borough Council’s offices are very different when sitting with their Parish or Town Council colleagues. Because when the Local Plan came out to consultation, many of them publicly rejected it out of hand. But aren’t they the same people who sent it out in the first place?
Indeed, the ructions it has caused between local villages and market towns may take years to reconcile. We have villages and towns to the West saying that all the new housing must be in the East and vice versa. We have one Town Council not only supporting the settlement but indeed suggesting tripling the number of new homes there, so long as it is not near them! And a few miles away we have other Town and Parish councils vigorously and vocally rejecting the new settlement. It has all got terribly personal with a nasty, derogatory and anonymous website which pillories anyone and everyone who might dare to stick their head above the sand! Even friends and colleagues dare not divulge their views for fear of an irreparable argument.
In this internecine battle, it is getting so bad in our area that an unwelcome immigrant has become someone who comes from the next village or town! Sajid Javid has attacked nimbyism as he called for 1 million new homes to be built by 2020 but he also said that brownfield sites should be considered first. The Borough Council really is ‘betwixt a rock and a hard place’ as it tries to satisfy both the Planning Inspector and its residents.
First published in South East Business Magazine February 2017